Sunday, June 26, 2016

WORDS & PAINT . . . A Project Inspires a New Story

In one of this life's incarnations I made my living by my brush. I still have the skills, but my knees are not what they once were.  Still every now and again a project comes my way that I cannot resist.  In this case, an old classmate from high school asked me to rehabilitate something she and her daughter had found in an antique store for the imminent arrival of said daughter's first child.  I was happy to help.

It turned out to be one of those projects that just sparks to life on its own, and I soon found myself talking to the object, a rolling toy box, while I worked on it.  I have to give partial inspiration to William Joyce and his book Ollie's Odyssey for some of this fancy, as well as for the notion of a "code" for toys.

Here is the result, a copy of which was given to the mother-to-be at her baby shower today, when the finished toy box was delivered. ~ Enjoy!


Charlie is Waiting for You
The toy box "before"
by Judith Cullen
© 2016

For Corrie Rydberg

He could remember things, but not very well.  He knew that the antique store was cold.  He knew that for certain.  He could hear the mutterings all around: memories of things worn and now discarded, has-been belongings placed for sale to collectors or people who were not put-off by fading paint or little bits missing here and there.  Of course, there were pristine things there in the chill: snooty glassware sparkling in self-aware stacks, extended families of china shining in the fluorescent light, rare teapots holding court on utilitarian shelves.

He was a toy box with wheels, though it had been so long since he had been purposefully used that all he had were the ghosts of memories.  There had been careful hands that crafted him lovingly out of wood now pleasantly aged.  He remembered the squeal of delight when his first child - what was that child's name? - saw him for the very first time, gleefully filling him with all manner of toys before parading him around the room - pulling him by his horse head handle.  His child had grown, and there had been other children.  He could not recall much beyond the sparkle of playful eyes, the touch of small hands, and the joys of imagination.

Then, one day, there had been no more children.  He had sat in the child's old room for a long time, losing track of how many risings and settings of the sun had passed since last he had fulfilled his purpose. Boxes and trunks of things began to accumulate around him, dust and soot.  "This is not what I was made for," he thought. 

One day, people came and began to sort through the contents of the room, which they called "store-age."  The toy box hoped eagerly for the energetic presence of a child, but all that came were adults.  They seemed quite sad, and would sometimes stop what they were doing to weep over something from one of the boxes or trunks.  Finally, they found him.  There was a moment of quiet, a tearful smile, and the lightest touch of a hand before the box was carted off to a waiting truck.

That's how he had ended up here.  He had been here for a long time.  People walked by him and stopped, puzzled over his fading red and yellow paint, raised and lowered his head, sometimes rolled him a few feet on his hidden casters.  Mostly though, they just walked by.  He never saw any of this, he only felt it - sensed it.  His long-ago eyes had faded shortly after the last child had left.

One day the toy box heard, "Look at that!  Isn't it cute?" and he felt himself rolled about a little, turned in a circle and examined.  A tiny glimmer of hope sparked deep inside the essence of the box. 

"It needs a lot of work.  Look, this side is really loose.  I've never seen anything quite like it though.  It could be really sweet."

"Don't you worry," replied another voice, "I know just the person for this.  We'll buy it."

A succession of strange locations and car rides followed, and the toy box found himself delivered to an entirely new place.  The glimmer that had begun inside him had grown to a small glow.   Could it be possible that he could be useful again?  Would he once more feel the excitement of a child's play, and fulfill his purpose?

His loose parts had become even looser from all the moving around. 

"Oh wow, look at that?  He definitely needs some work, but we can make him all better again.  I'll take care of it.  No worries."

He felt a new presence watching him, considering him. 

"What do you need to be, my friend?  You are full of possibilities."

Possibilities?  That was like a child's play!  The toy box knew all about possibilities, and he tried to straighten himself to show that he knew of what she spoke, but his failing joints and creaky nails would not let him.  He sat there for many days as this new person walked by him, stopped to look at him for long stretches of time.  The toy box did not know whether to hope or despair.  Would this turn out to be another "store-age"? or maybe, just maybe ...

The sun was warm on his wood the day the voice took him outside and began her work.  She replaced his hardware, bending out the old nails and replacing them with new screws.  She glued all his joints together and filled the worst of his chips and cracks.  All the while she spoke to him.  Her voice was low and kind.

"You are going to have a new life, my friend.  There is someone special waiting for you."

She sanded him for a long time; tough gritty paper followed by the caresses of a finer block.  She would sand for a while, and run her hand across him to be sure he was smooth and his surfaces soft.  She took a damp cloth and wiped him down, before she began to sand again.

"We have to get you ready, boy."

The toy box had not received this much attention in so long. It made him feel special, important somehow.  The sun had warmed him through and through by the time she applied a fresh coat of primer to every bit of him.  She whispered to him as she worked.

"Charlie is coming, you need to be prepared."

The horse head "handle" in progress on my worktable
The box's horse head handle detached, and he began to feel the caress of brushes and sponges while the voice painted his freshened rails and sides. The head was taken to another room where even more passes of bristle and pen were made.  This went on for several days. Remarkably, one night, something happened.  Something happened the toy box had only vaguely dreamed of.  The world started coming into a blurry focus, becoming more and more clear as minutes passed.  She had painted eyes on him.  He could see!  He looked up and saw gray hair and glasses on a round, amused face.  

"Look at you!"  she said, "you are quite handsome.  I think we have found you, at last."

She smiled down, and the box felt warmed just like it had in the sunshine.

"Charlie is coming.  You need to be ready."

The handle sat on the work table all night, dimly aware of its other part, and eagerly looking about the workroom at the shelves of books, stacks of papers, cups of brushes, and endless bottles of paint.  He felt as he had not felt in years.  He was full of energy and purpose.

The finished product - ready to be delivered to
Charlie's Mom & Dad
When she lovingly put the final touches on him the next day -  reassembled him, adding a new pull cord to him, stenciling on words -  she cleared her throat and spoke directly to him once again. 

"It is almost time. Charlie will be here soon.  And I think it is enough years since you had a child that we should probably review the basics." 

Her hands held a soft cloth now, and she polished his new paint with all the little colorful details she had added.  He had more than eyes: he had a beautiful painted face, like a carousel horse; his rails were alternating colors, blue and green; his fake wheels sported golden stars.

"There is an ancient Code of Toys, and if you are to truly have a child again you need to remember that always.  Do you remember The Code?"

The toy box thought he remembered that there was a code, though the specifics were a bit fuzzy just now.  It had been a really long time.

"Your sole purpose is to be useful, to bring joy to your child.  Your job is fun and delight.  Nothing is ever more important than that.  Your child's happiness is job number one.  That is the Code.  That is what you were made for."

Yes!  Yes, exactly that!  Now he remembered it clearly.  And the memories came flooding back of how it felt to bring joy, to spark laughter, to inspire smiles.  It felt as good as new fittings, and fresh paint. It felt better, in fact.

The kind person wheeled him out and tucked him in the back of her car.  She patted his head.

"It's time for you to play again.  Let's go.  Charlie is waiting."

Charlie's Toy Box - Ready and waiting for his new child in his new home.

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